Amoeblog

Would You Like A Cheese Puff?: The Art Of The RCA SelectaVision Videodisc CED

Posted by Mark Beaver, January 13, 2015 04:20pm | Post a Comment
 For a brief moment in time (1981-1986, to be exact) there existed a film delivery system based on needle/groove technology, just like a record player.



Launched by RCA and dubbed the CAPACITANCE ELECTRONIC DISC (CED), it was quickly supplanted by both commercially available VHS tapes and Laserdiscs, the precursor to the DVD, which read the information with light beams.

Ultimately, it was a clunky, inelegant technology prone to problems and RCA lost about $600 million on it, but there was a curious upside to its brief arc through the collective consciousness...the cover art.

For many of the CED packages, promotional artwork was commissioned for the face of the cartridge that was singular for the release of the RCA SelectaVision format. 

Below I have displayed a gallery of some of the cover art from that time, in most cases, different images than were ever seen on the more popular VHS, Laserdisc or DVD releases of the same films. 

Enjoy the beauty!








    
































































































































































































































































































































My Promiscuous Cochlea: Everyone My Ear Took Home in 2014

Posted by Mark Beaver, January 8, 2015 05:33pm | Post a Comment


Vinyl isn't cheap, nor is is tawdry, so the collecting of it has become much more a matter of discernment than it used to be.

The following is a list, alphabetical, perchance by merit, of the vinyl (new titles and re-issues) that made the cut in 2014. It doesn't presume to be a "Best Of," as I am very aware of the peculiarities of my particular set of listening apparatuses. It is a list of the vinyl that my scattershot attention locked on to, brought home and allowed to bed down in the limited space that I allot for records in my home.








































AMEN DUNES
Love (Sacred Bones)

Folky, trippy, with that under-water production we've heard from the likes of KURT VILE, except where VILE is stoned and hanging with his buddies, AMEN DUNES' Damon McMahon is lost in a vast open space, deep in the mushroom and calling "Marco Polo" to the night sky. Stark and brittle while somehow managing to remain lush. I don't think I listened to any album of 2014 as often as I've listened to this.

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AMON DÜÜL II
Yeti (Purple Pyramid Records)

Do we need another re-issue of one of the landmark achievements, one of the single-most definitive artifacts of Krautrock? Well, sure. And if, just if, it were to be re-issued with a lenticular cover and deep blue vinyl that sounds, well, just terrific. Hells yes! The most expensive piece I laid out for this year (#375 of a limited edition of only 500!), but absolutely worth it!

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APHEX TWIN
Syro (Warp)

What is there to be said? It's been a long wait for another AT release and it was well worth it. Alternately playful, serious, clubby, experimental. Elements of rave culture snuggling shoulder-to-shoulder with 21st Century composition. Fun for thinkers.

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VASHTI BUNYAN
Heartleap (DiCristina)

The crush of the modern world requires Vashti Bunyan. Her music is salve, balsam, emollient.  She skirts the edges of twee but the weight of her sheer, simple musicality pinions her into the real. Repeated listenings have locked Heartleap in as my favorite of her releases to date, and, sadly if her claims are true, the last.

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COH
To Beat Or Not To Beat (Editions Mego)

There's very little to be found regarding the name(s) behind this mysterious Russian(?) electronica imprint. The music is playful and spooky in the way that only experimentalists with a toe on the dance floor seem able to do. "eena ferroix" is my stand-out track, a slow build like a soundtrack to a horror movie in which Kraftwerk come back as zombies and shuffle a path of destruction through Algiers. Side D features a Ryuichi Sakamoto remix of it, as well.

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DEERHOOF
La Isla Bonita (Polyvinyl)

So many things going on here: The base layer is solid pop rock with far-flung polyrhythmic tendencies. It's weird, it's sweet, it's clunky and angular. I'm often reminded of pre-Eno Talking Heads, but only in brief moments, then it's buried in Henry Kaiser/Fred Frith-ish guitar-jabbing and sparring. I dig it. "Baseball is cancelled/E.T. is running late."

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JORDAN DE LA SIERRA
Gymnosphere: Song Of The Rose (Numero Group)

Numero Group was not to be outdone by last year's Light In The Attic overview of the history of New Age music, I AM THE CENTER.  Here they re-issue a near-forgotten 1976 treatise of piano-reverb magic. For when you need to just stop what'cher doing.

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ARIEL KALMA
An Evolutionary Music (Original Recordings: 1972-1979) (ReRVNG)

Clearly there's a hippy buried deep within me that is dying to be recognized. More tripped out experiments in piano, modulators, percussion and voice that we should all have known about all along. RVNG is my vote for label of the year, as there are 2 more re-issues by them in the list below.

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KINK Under Destruction (Macro Records)

Not real sure what to make of the fact that two of the few Electronica records I brought home this year were of Russian origin besides the fact that something strange and awesome is going on over there. Not as dark as the COH title listed above, but rather much more playful and silly and even tribal. Made me giggle.

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K. LEIMER A Period Of Review (ReRVNG)

Again on stellar re-issue label, RVNG, recordings by Kerry Leimer compiled from the years 1975-1983. Exotica flavors much of the proceedings, as does a particular New Wave quality. Some tracks seem cousins to Jon Hassel's Dream Theory In Malaya, while others feel ready to open for Flock Of Seagulls. 

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CRAIG LEON
Anthology Of Interplanetary Folk Music Vol. 1: Nommos/Visiting (ReRVNG)

The third item I collected from the RVNG label. Re-issues of two albums that were intended to be issued together in 1981, but were issued a year apart due to numerous obstacles. Leon was a producer for Suicide, Blondie and Richard Hell, the only obvious alignment being with Suicide. Similarly repetitive electronic patterns mark these albums, interspersed with modulating meditations and Japonesque rhumbas.

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LIARS
Mess (Mute)

How about a little "truth in advertising." The LIARS have always been a mess, but here they admit it. Their longevity seems poised on one driving principle, "do not let them guess what's coming next." The closest they've been to the dance floor yet ("Dress Walker"), but at the same time, the closest they've been to the dark ambient disturbance of psycho-sexual warriors like Current 93 or Coil ("Left Speaker Blown"). I love that I don't know what they're thinking.

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GIGI MASIN
Talk To The Sea (Music From Memory)

Take a pop song and then start pulling pieces away. Make it less and less and less. Install wide open landscapes between all of the few remaining parts. If you've loved this process from the likes of Talk Talk and Bark Psychosis, you're gonna love what Gigi Masin's doing.

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MODEST MOUSE
This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About (Glacial Pace Recordings)

The original 1996 LP remains my favorite and so glad Glacial Pace made it possible for me to have a shiny new, slightly expanded copy. Hey, thanks!

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MONO/POLY
Golden Skies (Brainfeeder)

So I heard this album, bought this album, dug this album deeply LONG before I ever read anything about them. I guess this guy, Charles Dickerson, is associated with Flying Lotus and Thundercat, which caught me by surprise, as I thought it HAD to be somebody associated with Fuck Buttons. Really great, intricate, open-horizoned electronica. Lots of forward drive and lots of things to see and do while you're driving there.

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MARISSA NADLER July (Sacred Bones)

As always, here on her 8th album in 10 years, Marissa Nadler is witchy and trippy and adept at finding ways to pry up the lid on the beautiful things that squirm around under love and time and lonely locations. 

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OOIOO
Gamel (Thrill Jockey)

As per the title, OOIOO have pulled their inspiration from Indonesian gamelan music, incorporating the rhythmic gongwork into an angular, artrock document that makes more and more and more and more and more sense the more you listen. A conceit that I was unsure of became logical, then obvious, then essential. Could everyone please add gamelan to whatever their doing? Now, please.

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KRZYSTOF PENDERECKI
Works (Naxos)

Naxos has started pressing vinyl?! You could have pushed me over with a feather, but then I bought this gorgeous item and it burned my face off, instead! Penderecki's the honey-badger of 20th Century composition; he doesn't give a s$%& and he will scare the behoozits outta you...but in a beautiful way.

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SONGS:OHIA
Didn't It Rain expanded re-issue (Secretly Canadian)

It feels strange for their to be an "expanded" issue of what was one of the late Jason Molina's most contracted and sparse albums. So, that means there's a lot more of as little as possible. The last album under his moniker SONGS:OHIA before he would ever-so-slightly expand his vision into MAGNOLIA ELECTRIC CO., Didn't It Rain is a document, a complicated heart's soulprint direct-to-wax.

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ANDY STOTT
Faith In Strangers (Modern Love)

The first track from Stott's newest is akin to 6 minutes of foghorn, digitally created, of course. The album slowly lifts off the water from there. Faith In Strangers is the first Stott release that I've connected with, mostly due to the sheer unusualness of being completely captivating while having next to nothing taking place. Not really ambient, as there are beats, but he's a DJ that won't lay one down until you're looking at something else. He's acting the shadow person, performing in the periphery of your vision.

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TOTAL CONTROL
Typical System (Iron Lung)

Saw these guys open for THEE OH SEES in 2011 at Alex's Bar in Long Beach (IMHO, one of the area's best venues), and they were awesome. The hooks and vocal detachment of Joy Division delivered with raw punk energy over SUICIDE-al beats. Their 2012 debut, Henge Beat was killer, and Typical System ups the ante. The perfect balance of New Wave ethos and Punk attack.

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TRUST
(aka TR/ST and TRST) Joyland (Arts & Crafts)

Here are some of the words reviewers used in their luke warm reception of TRUST's sophomore effort: "slick," "repulsive," "disturbing," "lewd" and "numbing." Add all those up along with the album being described as, "a dance record for the club underneath the club," and I'm hooked. 

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TUNE-YARDS
Nikki Nack (4AD)

Forget all the hyped, songwriter-fed, jetset-producer-fixed R&B that is force fed to you during every network halftime event. There's a new soul sound as angular as the Buzzcocks, as nutty as Ivor Cutler and as smart and confounding as your last Statistics final. Get smart!

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WOVENHAND Refractory Obdurate (Deathwish)

Let's imagine that IF the GUN CLUB's Jeffrey Lee Pierce had wrested control of SOUTHERN DEATH CULT away from Ian Astbury, turned his life over to the Lord Jesus by way of revelation and slipped down into the catacombs to dust off all the Apocryphal texts that he could (but probably shouldn't) get his hands on, then we might be approaching the sound of David Eugene Edwards' WOVENHAND. This is a revival tent I will enter.

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YO LA TENGO
Extra Painful! (Matador)

Yo La Tengo's songs are a lot like planets: They're out there spinning around us and some of them are warm, some are cold, some of them are lush or stark, and some of them we're not sure we can even say are planets, maybe moons or just satellites. But when they align, you can really feel the pull. Their 1993 release Painful! was one of the band's true harmonic convergences, a perfect flow of dream-pop, jangle and full-on jam. Extra Painful! adds another disc's worth of live and demo proof that it wasn't a studio-manufactured fluke.

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VARIOUS ARTISTS
Savage Rhythm (Stag-O-Lee)

There is hope. A while ago I watched GOLDDIGGERS OF 1933 on DVD. I figured I might have to groan through some real cornball antics, but what struck me was just how razor-sharp the comedy of those early talkies truly was. Similarly, record bins all over every town in America, in every Goodwill and St. Vincent De Paul thrift store, in every Salvation Army and swap meet are full of the likes of Tommy Dorsey, Charlie Barnet, Bob Crosby and Artie Shaw. You see them there marked 50 cents and figure they're just corny and square and stale. This beautifully packaged and brilliantly curated set proves we're wrong about that.

Where My Ears Went in 2012

Posted by Mark Beaver, January 10, 2013 01:33pm | Post a Comment

SANDRO PERRI Impossible Spaces
(Constellation Records)

Easily the most confounding sound I heard this last year. In all truth, this record was released in late 2011, but I didn't find any indicators pointing towards it until this year. Perri is a multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, producer from Toronto, Canada who also creates electronica under the name Polmo Polpo. On Impossible Spaces, Perri presents a light, meandering soul in a voice that sometimes reminds me of Michael Franks, sometimes Antony, sometimes Christopher Cross. It's a strange tone to hear in 2012, but it is all couched and wrapped in, levitated and nudged along by a busy production of electronica, (fretless?) bass, warped keyboards and processed saxophone that keeps pulling my ear deep into its sheer inventiveness. Guaranteed to confuse.








MOUNT EERIE Clear Moon
((P.W.Elverum & Sun)  

One of this year's two "sister" releases (with Ocean's Roar), Clear Moon, is issued, as it should be, on clear vinyl. Phil Elverum, the creative force behind Mount Eerie and its former incarnation, Microphones, is a master of mood. His albums are for headphones, for closed eyes, akin to sitting alone (or with silent friends) in the forest or on some chilled rocky outcropping from where you can see no sign of civilization and yet always aware that its there.




From the lyrics of "Through The Trees Pt.2":  

I meant all my songs
not as a picture of the woods
but just to remind myself
that I briefly live.

The gleaming stone,
the moon in the sky at noon
there is no other world
and there has never been.









TY SEGALL Twins
(Drag City)

There's truly been enough said on many, many other posts about this record and I don't have much to add. It's a clear fruition of a current Bay Area vibe that blends a brutal garage attack with savvy, almost sing-songy melodies. It gets under your skin and deep into your booty bones. After that, well, nature just takes its course.












This appearance on David Letterman shows what we're dealing with here: probably one of the most ferocious performances to hit that stage in years!






THEE OH SEES Putrifiers II EP
(In The Red)

Close akin to Ty Segall, but working the Bay Area garage mines much longer are John Dwyer and his amazing THEE OH SEES. In my opinion the greatest freak-your-butt-off-on-the-dancefloor band currently working. They keep making really, really great records and they keep putting on really, really great shows. The attack is huge, the melodies are weird and pretty and infectious and if you get in sonic range you will sprain your tail feather! They are quickly becoming my "most seen live" band. Purtrifiers definitely does not fit the traditional meaning of the term "EP," as it contains 10 songs. The track "Lupine Dominus" is a real high point in their career packed with high points and its video is great wordless, short-story film making that all film students should study: sex-sturbing!









LED ER EST The Diver
(Sacred Bones)

Sacred Bones has become a really excellent label. You can go to their stable and pretty much pick a winner with your eyes closed. Led Er Est's latest is digging through the minimal wave sound that has become the flavor with which I would most identify 2012's reigning underground trend. However, except for a few darksynth dancefloor nods ('Kaiyo Maru,' 'Divided Parallel,' 'La Lluvia Y Memoria') the rest of the album is much more Coil than Gary Numan. Brooding and beautiful collage structures for night scenes.









COSMONAUTS 
If You Wanna Die Then I Wanna Die
 (Burger)  

I saw these guys open for THEE OH SEES last year in Long Beach and was stunned. Apiece with the evening's blistering garage vibe, but with a little more of the SoCal surf vibe in the mix. Remember when Jesus & Mary Chain really knew how to drive a garage/surf anthem off the tracks? You don't? Oh, right...I'm old.














SOFT MOON Zeros
 (Captured Tracks)  

Zeros is, for the most part, an instrumental album. Even what vocals appear are there as more texture to layer on the darkness. There's a clear line of philosophy between mid-80s 4AD recordings by Cindytalk (hear "It's Luxury") and the oeuvre of this one-man band, Luis Vasquez. The bass is very Cure and the atmosphere is dark and gothy and only sometimes danceable ('Zeros,' 'Die Life,' 'Lost  Years'), and that might even be a stretch as the atmosphere is so thick. Great deep layers of bass, guitar, drum-machine and lots of electronic textures to get buried beneath. 






MERIDIEN BROTHERS Desesperanza
 (Sound Way)

Sometimes you just need something that weirds you out clear to the bone.

You can read another review by AMOEBA's World Music Buyer here: https://www.amoeba.com/blog/2012/10/los-angeles-me/meridian-brothers-desesperanza-.html

I, too, was reminded of the Latin Playboys on first listen. So playful and funny and spooky and just plain weird. The title track is a real stand-out for me, clearly revealing the traditional rhythms beneath Eblis Alvarez' near dead-pan delivery. 








HOLOGRAMS Holograms
(Captured Tracks)  

Ultimately nothing new going on on this record, but sometimes its just exciting to taste that old wine from new bottles. Joy Division, very early Killing Joke, lots of different influences that these Scandinavian kids wear on their sleeves, but the raw sparks they throw make it one of the year's better rides.















TWIN SHADOW Confess
(4AD)  

It shouldn't work. There's something very Corey Hart "Sunglasses At Night" about George Lewis Jr.'s TWIN SHADOW output.  He uses the word 'heart' more often than should be allowed and it's all so expectedly painful, these workings and mis-workings of love. But it's all handled with the right amount of swagger and brattiness and truly elegant panache. There's such balance to these songs; never too beaty, never too whispy, the tuneful balanced by the crude, the near-whispered offset by the shout. The rhythms are clearly 80's (the opening bass and drums of 'The One' seem a direct tribute to Pat Benatar's 'Love Is A Battlefield'), and Lewis clearly has a way with lyrics that find a way to retell the old story. All in all a significant accomplishment that deepens as the songs settle in over repeated listens.





 Re-Issue and Re-births:




Various Artists ITALIA NEW WAVE
(Spittle)

Subtitled, "Minimal Synth, No Wave & Post Punk Sounds From The 80's Italian Underground." OK. I'm on board. Who knew? The insipid "Days" by Jeunesse D'Ivoire is to be avoided, but otherwise not a throw-away track in the bunch. Stand-outs include N.O.I.A.'s funk-synth "Forbidden Planet,"  "Your Eyes" by State Of Art and the deep pulse of Fockewulf 190's "WeAre Colder."









TIM MAIA Nobody Can Live Forever: The Existential Soul Of Tim Mai
a (Luaka Bop)

This Vol. 4 of Luaka Bop's 'World Psychedelic Classics' series was 10 years in the making. Very little here I would classify under 'psychedelia' (other than the lyrics), but it is all super groovy latin-tinged, funk-soul, proto-disco not too far afield from Funkadelic's classic recordings. Maia's vocals have a gravelly undertone reminiscent of Taj Mahal in the lower registers and the overall thickness of his delivery, for some reason, seems of a piece with the funk. All four sides of this release are gem-studded, but the very last track, 'Rational Culture' is the stunner; a bubbling funk-disco universal consciousness realization manifesto that should be on every disco night playlist. "We're gonna rule the world. Don't you know? Don't you know?"







Various Artists PERSONAL SPACE: Electronic Soul 1974-1984
(Chocolate Industries)  

Could this be the best collection ever made?! God love the bin-diggers! It starts strong and then just lifts up and away! If Guitar Red's "Disco From A Space Show" doesn't blow you right out of the room you betta' check a pulse! Funk-eologist Dante Carfagna has compiled a masterpiece of off-kilter, early electronica-steeped funk that just gives and gives. SERIOUSLY! Hear this! 









                                                

In Praise of Tiny LP's!

Posted by Mark Beaver, September 2, 2010 09:00am | Post a Comment


Not long ago Amoeba brought in an original 1964 Japanese pressing of the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night LP. Typically, we have found that we are able to fetch upwards of $250 for that record in Near Mint condition (which this copy was). However, the LP we purchased also had that strip of paper, printed primarily in Japanese, that it was originally purchased with back in 1964. "Big deal!," one might think, but, yes...it is.
The "obi," a t
erm borrowed from the sash worn as a belt around the midsection of a kimono, is a piece of ephemera that many people throw away when they first crack open their Japanese vinyl. A word of advice: Don't do that! Because the Beatles album had that slim belt of paper, 45 years old and in almost all other cases, discarded, it was worth closer to $2,000!

Obi fans and collectors will nod their heads, "of course!" So much is the appeal of the fine attention to detail and the often beautiful "extra something" lent by the obi that, fairly early in the history of the CD, Japanese CD manufacturers began making LP replica CD's, complete with scale versions of their accompanying obis...and another voracious collectors'
market was born.



Amoeba Music has recently
purchased a collection of over 6,000 Japanese LP replica CDs, the vast majority with accompanying obis. What's more, there are many that include additional obis: not only the obi that came with the LP replica CD release, but another scale replica of the obi that came with the original Japanese vinyl release. To make matters even stranger, some of these issues come with an additional obi indicating that the item was a promotional copy intended for reviewers, broadcasters and industry people.

What first struck me in digging through this massive collection was how many of the mini LP's I had not only never seen in CD form, but had never seen even on their original LP equivalent. I have worked 24 years now in some of the busiest record stores in the US, and as I flipped through the collection I saw example after example of albums by known (and many unknown) artists that I had NEVER laid eyes on!

Sure, there are many examples of CD reissues for bands that we have never heard of -- obscure vanity projects that in the ensuing years had gathered enough of a cult following to warrant a CD issue, but dedicating the resources to producing an LP replica CD, often complete with two or more obis, is a whole other level of homage.

Many Japanese LP replica CDs are the only versions available on CD, and most of them have been remastered using cutting-edge technology. Not only are there the Gold discs and 20 and 24-bit masterings that have become more commonplace in the last decade, but there is also SBM Master Sound, DSD, Blue-Spec, SHM-CD, HQCD, DTS and K-2/K-2HD processes (see below for a breakdown of remastering differences), as well, each of them with their different advantages and zealous collectors' markets.



I think the first time that I was really struck by the coolness of the mini LP replica CD was when I bought a replica version of Neil Young's On The Beach. I had owned the vinyl for years and had always admired that the inside of the sleeve was printed with what looked like a 70's wallpaper pattern. When I got my purchase home and opened it I was amazed to find that they had reproduced the pattern of the inner sleeve in perfect scale. Granted, it may be one of those little delights that only a true music geek really indulges in, but, yeah, I loved it.

Regarding the same pure delight in replicated design, while digging through the collection I came across something that I had no reason to believe existed. Many of our readers are likely to remember the Talking Heads album from 1987, Speaking In Tongues. There was a limited edition of that album commissioned from the artist Robert Rauschenburg that was a lucite clamshell style sleeve around a clear LP.

The outer case had three wheels of printed images, one in yellow, one in cyan and the other in magenta, the three primary colors from which printed color is mixed. As the wheels were turned to align the different printed images over the top of each other, a full color image came into view. I never imagined that I would see a CD replica of that album cover, but here it is in all its glory.

As if all that detail wasn't enough, many of the mini LP replicas were also reissued with facsimiles of the original extra 7"s that came with them, or the original posters, stickers, and, in some cases, extra mini LP covers that replicate alternate album covers that appeared in other countries.


For example, both the Jam's Snap and Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers' L.A.M.F. come with 3" mini CD-ep's, packaged to replicate their original bonus 7"s.


The mini LP replica of Giles, Giles & Fripp's Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles & Fripp was issued with both the Deram and Deram/London labels' original covers.



















                                                                    
                                                    Tiny LP's are cool!




























If you would like to see more of these amazing Japanese replicas and buy any of them from our site, check out this page!
If you are in the area, there are also items available at the Hollywood store, and they are different from what is available on our website.

Here's the breakdown of some of the remastering techniques used on the Japanese mini LP replica CD's:

Master Sound
20bit Super Bit Mapping “SBM” system developed by Sony using unique quantizing in the analog-to-digital conversion to give the appearance of 20bit sound from a 16bit CD.

Best of a Rapid Decade: One per year plus a few too good to not mention...

Posted by Mark Beaver, January 6, 2010 04:00pm | Post a Comment

In recently trying to fill in a friend on what I'd spent the last year or two listening to, I realized that my personal taste tends to gravitate towards some element of either Folk form (any hint of hill-folk finger-pickin' or Ozark/Appalachian melancholy and I'm in), Psychedelia or the tendency to extend a theme for a good long jam (a category in which I include a lot of the Jazz that I like), or just a great, funky groove.

With those qualifiers in place, the following is a year by year review of the last decade which somehow got past me with out noticing it. I mean, really?!! 2010?!!!  I didn't see it coming: 

2000: Album of the Year

Air's enjoyable and wacky Moon Safari had been on the decks for a couple years before they contracted for the soundtrack to Sofia Coppolla's Virgin Suicides. The resultant score is absolutely sublime and marked the French electronauts as contenders to watch.

For myself, it was the defining sound of the millennium's new year.
















Shelby Lynne released a killer country-soul gem, I Am Shelby Lynne, that echoed early material from the likes of Bonnie Raitt. Thinking that it was a brilliant debut from a talented 32yo unknown, I was eventually shocked to find that it was her 6th album. I listened to it for months.




Radiohead's Kid A stood out from the pack as probably my most listened to album of 2000.  It wasn't quite another OK Computer, but I was still high on them and the layers of rock guitar, electronica and Thom Yorke's signature vocal style kept me happy for another year.



Susumu Yokota was dropped on my radar by friends who just know what I like. Sakura, on the LEAF label, is on par with much of that label's releases: smooth, almost glacial electronica. In this case, lots of processed guitar and drum patterns building small, contemplative, melodic pieces. Yokota followed this beauty with an even stronger release in 2002, The Boy and the Tree.




2001: Album of the Year

2001 gave me the one title that I still obsess most about to this day.  It's an odd and singular slab of vinyl by The
Microphones
called The Glow Pt. 2. I have a hard time convincing others of its sheer greatness, but I've brought a few fellow travelers on board.

Led by Washington based Phil Elvrum, who now records under the moniker Mt. Eerie, The Glow is a many-faceted gem of lo-fi songwriting of shocking focus and clarity. Elvrum never lets anything play long enough to bore, and he has, album by album, become a master of atmosphere: layering found sounds, both natural and man-made, across his troubled, gentle songs. This is definitely an album that plays better alone and with headphones, but man! Easily in my Top 5 albums of the decade!





I was totally locked-in with White Stripes and the full-blown media blitz around White Blood Cells. I still think that it holds up as an amazing document from a great year from a great band at their peak. "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground," is still a great song, as is "Fell in Love With a Girl," and the surprisingly sweet and affecting "We're Going To Be Friends."




2002: Album of the Year

I think that it would be hard not to admit that Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was the album of the year for 2002. All of the drama around the album allegedly being "passed on" by their label and its subsequent extreme on-line success was just too good of a story to not propel this really very, very good album into legendary status. It belongs there.

















2002 also gave us new highs from long-time staples Beck and The Flaming Lips. Both Beck and the Lips are fairly chameleonic entities. They change styles like people change babies. Beck sounded like he'd been bingeing on Gordon Lightfoot on his release, Sea Change, but the sound fit him well and, to date, it's the only Beck I own.



The Flaming Lips remade themselves from hard-driving psychedelic (damaged) warriors into mystic prophets of the multi-layered freakout. I loved Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots from the opening chords.




The sleeper of the year was Cliff Martinez' electronic score for Steven Soderbergh's remake of SolarisBattestar Galactica fans may recognize some of it as it reappeared in spots on the recent TV series. Not unlike an electronic gamelan. Hypnotic and absolutely beautiful.




Though associated thru her husband, Phil Wandscher, with the band Whiskeytown, Jesse Sykes is a phenomenon all her own. Her pacing, her smoky, almost male vocal tones and her haunting original songs have made her one of my top artists of the decade. As killer as Reckless Burning was in 2002, her albums only got better as the decade progressed. Definitely check out 2007's Like, Love, Lust and the Open Halls of the Soul (Barsuk).



Led by Will Oldham's brother, Ned Oldham, Anomoanon (rhymes with "phenomenon") brought all of their talents into focus for their 5th release, Asleep Many Years In The Wood. Sometimes described as a less-meandering Grateful Dead, or a slightly happier take on Crazy Horse, I loved, loved, loved this album and truly, every time I played it, somebody said something to the effect of, "this is awesome, what is it?"





2003: Album of the Year

I didn't pay any attention to Songs:Ohia until 2003, when their Magnolia Electric Co. (a name the band would subsequently be known by) appeared and blew my mind. Rootsy, haunting, alternately rocking or introspective, Jason Molina's self-driven project was my listen of the year.

Also released as a limited 2CD version that includes a disc of the whole album from beginning to end, done by Molina, solo, with just his guitar for company, on the last night that he occupied his apartment. Any of the band tracks that might not seem focused on the first studio disc come into high-relief thru Molina's solo treatment.










Bonnie Prince Billy (aka Palace, Palace Bro.s, Will Oldham) released his best album to date in 2002. Fully produced with strings, backing vocals and the whole kaboodle, it's a near-perfect album. Lots of his trademark Appalachian whine, but fleshed out. Every song a winner. You will see more of Oldham as you read on: he is my choice for Musician of the Decade.




A thick scotch brogue and traditional Scottish ballads or songs that certainly sound like traditional Scottish ballads (murder ballads or otherwise) mist up from the grooves on Alasdair Roberts' Farewell Sorrow. From the band Appendix Out, and signed to Drag City under the urging of Will Oldham, Roberts makes a softly paced trad-folk that's incredibly easy to listen to.



William Basinski found some old reel-to-reels that he had made back in the 80's, and, in the process of trying to transfer them to digital, noticed that the CrO2 was just falling off the tapes like powder. He looped the reels and let them play until they faded into silence. The results, his Disintegration Loops, are some of the most haunting recordings you will ever hear.





Hala Strana is fronted by the Jewelled Antler Collective member Steven R. Smith. You can hear him play amazing guitar on his own recordings and in the bands Thuja, Mirza and Ulaan Khol. Hala Strana takes all of his fuzzed and smeared guitar artistry and applies it toward treatments of themes from Eastern European folk music. Killer!


 

2004: Album of the Year

In all fairness, Dungen had been in the collective hipster consciousness for a good year or more when Ta Det Lugnt hit the shelves, but this was the slbum that set off the full-blown craze.

Everything I like is here: Scandinavian folk forms, psychedelia and some great extended grooves.

I just wish I knew what they were saying...
















The band Espers hails from the Philadelphia area, but their sound is all British Isles circa 1969. There is very little that definitely marks them as being a new-millennium-era band, but I don't mind that in the least. If everyone looked backwards at what came before them as solidly and craftfully as this accomplished combo does, the world would be a more beautiful place. And their albums are all as good as this, if not better.




2004 marked the debut recording, Milk-Eyed Mender, from classically-trained harpist/composer Joanna Newsom. Her troubling voice turned many to flight, as Allmusic described it, "somehere between a child and a crone." I loved it just because of that untrained Appalachian-scented cry. Her songs are intricate and heartfelt, like teaching songs for children about the most painful things they've yet to face.



Ghost albums are always a crap-shoot, but 2004 gave us one of the real gems in Hypnotic Underworld. Though there are no bad Ghost albums, some don't have the pacing one would like, or that complete album feel. Hypnotoc Underworld unfolds of a piece: great songs, great jams, great playing. Everything, in fact, that a collective of Japanese neo-hippies can bring. The best of theirs since 1996's Lama Rabi Rabi.





2005: Album of the Year

Okkervil River is another group that had bubbled along for years, arguably producing even stronger albums than Black Sheep Boy before I stumbled upon them. Nevertheless, I hooked into Black Sheep Boy and didn't let go for weeks.

The title track is a Tim Hardin cover, paced and folky like the original, but the rest of the album thrums like young punkers that are having a hard time fitting into the confines of "songwriting."

That very tension makes it all work.










Many Allison Goldfrapp fans will point to her self-titled band's 2000 debut, Felt Mountain, as the best of her output so far, but I found it all a bit too James Bond-y, torchy and tried. With Black Cherry, she lays it all out for the dancefloor and contends for the sexiest chanteuse of the decade. The title track, the grinding "The Train," and "Strict Machine" are some the most voluptuous dance tracks in years.






They may not have the most original sound on the block, echoing Red House Painters, Jay Farrar, Early Day Miners, and even straying close to Handsome Family, but Great Lake Swimmers sure know their way around a beautiful tune. Banjo, guitar, strings and brushed drums add up to sadcore at its prettiest.




Once the freak-folk began searching for her whereabouts, we knew it wouldn't be long before a new album (after a 35-year hiatus) emerged from British folk legend Vashti Bunyan. Lookaftering sounds like she recorded it a year after her last, the legendarily gorgeous Just Another Diamond Day from 1970. Well worth the wait.






At some point I'm going to have to admit that all I want is a cabin in the woods and a jug of moonshine because that's the sound that kills me. Phosphorescent is basically a one-person (Matthew Houck out of Athens, GA) band plus friends. On Aw Come Aw Wry, they make a decidedly Will Oldham-y sort of sound, though a bit heavier on the hoedown and religious revival. And who can resist a CD that ends with 19 minutes of rain recorded from a rural Georgia porch?





2006: Album of the Year/Album & Artist of the Decade

I've been a fan of Will Odham's through all of his incarnations, but nothing prepared me for The Letting Go. Recorded in Iceland with major contributions from Dawn McCarthy from the folky Faun Fables, the album is a major document of a truly gifted and eccentric songwriter at a real peak.

McCarthy's vocal arrangements are to be credited with a lot of the album's sparse power, but the songs are just really, really excellent.

Listen to the "little birdy" refrain that leads out of "Cursed Sleep." It has echoes of Charles Ives' vocal arrangements on Shaker themes. Fragile, backwoods songs as heard on a lost and broken coast out in the middle of the Atlantic...




Again, here's a piece that stirs the ghost of Charles Ives. Joanna Newsom returns with her second album, and it's a much more ambitious effort that her first collection of songs: only five songs that average out at about 11 minutes each. Van Dyke Parks is on board to help the arrangements in a sort of torch-passing of the American song-cycle form. It's a masterpiece, and a close contender for album of the decade.




I am a reluctant fan of the freak-folk. I don't like how dangerously close Devendra Banhart's vocals stray to those of T.Rex, especially since I'm not a fan of T.Rex's vocals, either. So, when a Banhart-associated project landed in my lap, I was slow to respond. Luckily, I did, and found something much less freak-folk and much more focused and complete. Vetiver's To Find Me Gone is large patches of musical extensions, slightly ambient psychedelic, held together with stitches of fine songwriting. Check "I Know No Pardon" and "You May Be Blue."



Juana Molina...what the hell?! Argentinian singer who makes confoundingly creative albums so varied and layered with ideas that I have to guess she's just plain nuts. Son is her 4th and, for me, her most out. It stands like The Dreaming amongst Kate Bush's catalogue. The stops are pulled out and the sheer insane musicality of it all tumbles out. Hold onto your hat.





I had pegged the Liars, after their debut album, They Threw Us All In A Trench..., as Fall wannabees. Interesting choice, I thought. Lots of the kids are copying the old-folks, but I haven't heard them attempting the Fall, yet. Their sophomore effort, 2004's They Were Wrong, So We Drowned was so god-awful that I thought I was done. Then they went even crazier. Drum's Not Dead and 2007's Liars are amazing albums, and I have no idea what they are doing.



2007: Album of the Year

It was a hard pick between Iron & Wine's The Shepherd's Dog and Panda Bear's Person Pitch, but in the end I was just so proud of Iron & Wine that I picked them as the best of the year.

After years of finely done, but ultimately a bit soft, boring and just incomplete music, I was pleasantly surprised by this full album of great songs, dynamics and jam that made me think that leader Samuel Beam had gone on a major Lindsay Buckingham kick and gleaned all the best things from the craftsman of Fleetwood Mac's pop gems. Feel the Tusk!








Person Pitch by Panda Bear (a project lead by Animal Collective's Noah Lennox) was presented to me as something I was supposed to either dislike or be confused by. Confused, yes, but I loved it. It was like the Beach Boys, who I never liked, suddenly made sense. These are the sounds inside Brian Wilson's head.





Are the tones that Adam Forkner utilizes on White Rainbow's Prism of Eternal Now really healing? They certainly healed my great drone deficiency. Forkner did similarly great work in his previous band Yume Bitsu, and it's good to see he hasn't lost any chops. Satisfies where Stars of the Lid only tease.




From the same Scottish collective that brought us King Creosote, K.T. Tunstall and Alasdair Roberts, James Yorkston writes beautiful, lilting ballads that churn along with strings, brushed drums, harmonica, mandolins and the like. Year of the Leopard is a great companion for a rainy day, of which, unfortunately, Los Angeles has way too few.





There are times in listening to the albums of Norwegian jazz pianist Tord Gustavsen that one might think that he has abandoned the project, or just forgotten to play. Then the trio takes its next step forward and all of that silence makes breathtaking sense. Being There is his best to date and well worth some time spent in its company.




2008: Album of the Year 

Unlike a lot of the full-blown crazes of the last decade, I really liked how the Bon Iver phenomenon manifested. Not very different from the pacing of the album For Emma... itself, it bubbled along by word-of-mouth as more and more people really took stock of what they were listening to.

Justin Vernon's voice is unbelievably soulful without straying into the territory of "Soul Music." He uses vocoder without straying into irony or 80's nostalgia. It's so reservedly experimental that it never becomes "Art Rock." For Emma, Forever Ago is a felt and artful and crafted album, and it deserves all the praise its been given.








This is the cover of the LP version of Build An Ark's Dawn album. It's a great album cover. Luckily, what I found on listening is an astounding album of spiritual jazz featuring Phil Ranelin, Dwight Trible (arguably one of the greatest living jazz vocalists), Carlos Nino and Adam Rudolph, among a host of others. One can draw a line directly from the Impulse recordings of John and Alice Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders to this project's spirit. Heartful and real.





Former Pavement guy Stephen Malkmus got it all working for Real Emotional Trash. He's obviously loving playing his guitar and the extensions on the title track, "Hopscotch Willie," and "Elmo Delmo" show it. His lyrics are as often nonsensical as not, but we never complained when the Ramones sang "Gabba Gabba Hey."





Featuring members that have all cut their teeth over the years with the likes of Earlimart, Sebadoh and The Folk Implosion, Everest peaked the curiosity and attention of Neil Young, who signed them to his Vapor label and took them as openers on two tours. They write great folk and psychedelia-tinged songs like "Rebel in the Roses" and "Black Covers." Can't wait for the next, hopefully appearing sometime in 2010.





I never thought that I would respond to anything so redolent of Bob Dylan as Swede Kristian Matsson's solo venture, The Tallest Man On Earth. However, it's really surprising and really, really good. Just him and guitar (or dobro) and a pocketful of forward-driving folk songs that stand up and shake you by the lapels.






Just when you think there can't be any more good songs in Will Oldham, he lays out another gem. Every time I hear Lie Down In The Light again I just shake my head. How can it be so friggin' good?

Yet another reason why I grant him the title of Musician of the Decade.






2009: Album of the Year

All the pre-hype on this record had it billed as "their black-metal album." Well, black-metal it's not, but the record is flavored with it.

Phil Elvrum (formerly frontman for the aforementioned The Microphones), mixes up a brew that smokes with ambient, field recordings, low-breathed musings and full black-metal assault. It all adds up and ends up being surprisingly human and vulnerable and bare.

I understand those that can't get behind Mt. Eerie, but Im not going to join them. I think they are one of the few groups today that sound ONLY like themselves.









First of all, Dinosaur Jr. finally got themselves a good album cover. Really, they have had some of the worst of all time in their long 22 years of music-making. On top of that, Farm is a great album. Like on the previously mentioned Stephen Malkmus LP,  the Dinos are obviously really enjoying the act of playing rock-n-roll. A folky, Neil Young-y tinge has seeped in over the years and their songs are better for it. Arguably the best of their long career!






Like Espers, Marissa Nadler's music is hard to pin into the 21st century. Using 60's and 70's British Folk as a springboard, she lets her own songs slightly unwind. Organ, guitar, lap steel and percussion build a reserved psychedelic ambience around her thin reed of a voice. Little Hells is her 4th album in 5 years and she grows with every release. Keep an eye on her.

       
          
 

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